I was scared as hell…
I’m kind of pissed that I feel like I was placed in this constant state of fear due to something that I tried to help control. I voted for Hillary. I wanted the democratic party to win. I needed her to deliver that victory. She didn’t. He won. And there I sat, frozen in fear.
Now let me be clear – I wasn’t fearful of Donald Trump. He’s just one man for goodness sake. However, he’s one man whose tentacles reach those who think it’s okay to be even more openly racist than before. I’m Black. I’ve been called nigger and jiggaboo, and yes, it’s been irritating, but I’ve handled it. I learned how to talk back and take up for myself, and ensure that whoever the person was who issued the racist negativity towards me would think twice before they did it to anyone else. Yeah, I was that type of person. A woman turned renegade because of life experiences.
I was recently asked to fly to the south for a meeting. Now I’m not going to say the city or state because I don’t want folks coming after me because I mentioned where they live. I don’t know if they would, but Donald Trump is going to be president so hell, anything can happen.
I didn’t want to go to said city because frankly I was scared as hell. I wasn’t sure if it was safe to travel to a place that historically has been unkind to Black folks. They didn’t like us before and quite frankly I’m not convinced they like us now.
But I went anyway. And while I was there something interesting happened. I was all of a sudden very “present”. More than I’ve ever been before. I felt myself on high alert “just in case.” I didn’t want to be caught off-guard in case some racist person decided they wanted to taunt me and tell me they were sending me back to Africa. (Actually the joke would be on them because I’m a descendant of whites and Native Americans. So theoretically, I’m more American than they are!)
But I digress.
So being present meant I was more aware of my surroundings and the people who filled the space around me. I was more inclined to make eye contact and say a cheerful hello. I held the door a little longer than I normally would for the person behind me. I created a safe space for myself by being consciously aware of the people who were there with me. It was earth shattering for me.
I wasn’t scared. I was intrigued. I wanted to know about everyone and hear their stories and understand, well, them. I wanted to listen and learn and offer and project and laugh and smile and feel safe for myself and for them. I found myself being able to do that during one of our conference sessions when we shared how we were feeling one week after the election. At one time we all shared our concerns and hopes. We all became vulnerable, together. The people of color in the room shared how they’ve been accosted and called names and approached by Trump supporters who did threaten to send them back to Africa (it’s funny how they just assume we know someone there. I personally don’t know one person in Africa. That might be a problem if we do have to go back!) Again, I digress.
I saw the fear in their eyes as they told their stories. I also saw the empathy and sadness in the eyes of all the others in the room. I watched them as they wept and became emotional because hate had been shown and what could be the future was very real. It was in that room. I heard heartfelt apologies from people who, I believe, felt that was all they could do at that time. And I felt myself open a bit more and receive what was being shared in that room.
As with most meetings or conferences, they feed you like you haven’t eaten in months. And so there we were on our fourth meal of the meeting and I saw the same woman who had been waiting on our group the entire time we were there. She always smiled and attended to our needs. I was drawn to her for some reason. She made me feel welcomed.
On the last day at the conference I came downstairs to check out and there she was. Ready to greet me with her smile and sunny personality. She asked me where I was from and I told her Washington, DC. I asked her and she told me Egypt. She has a husband and three children here – two are a set of twins. She told me how she enjoyed her job and she’d been in the US for six years. Her parents and siblings are still in Egypt and she wished they could come to the states and be with her, but it wasn’t possible. She told me about how hard she and her husband worked to provide for their family and how she was pleased that I was pleased with her service to us. I thanked her profusely for working with us and told her what an outstanding job she did and what a wonderful person she was, mainly because I wanted her to know that she mattered and her story mattered.
I left the hotel feeling enlightened. As I sat in our last meeting of the conference where I looked around at the people that I was spending time with and said to myself, “I am not alone. They may not feel what I feel as a Black woman, but I am not alone.”
Now I know my experiences won’t be the same as their experiences and my children’s lives won’t be the same as their children’s, but that’s okay. My children will have great lives regardless of who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue simply because they can. I tell my sons all the time “a bird doesn’t ask for permission to fly. It just flies.” I say that to prove to them that they don’t need to ask permission to be great or smart or talented. They can just be. They don’t need anyone’s approval.
That’s how I feel now. I can still feel safe in this country. I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for that to happen. I can go and come as I please without fear. And you know what? THAT Is what makes America great. Having an appreciation for the different types of people and ideals that make up this country. Understanding that while none of us may have all of the answers, we are all in this, together.
Naa Borle Sackeyfio is a Human Development graduate of the University of the District of Columbia.